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Five Came Back

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So this book has been mentioned a few times in threads devoted to John Ford or WW2 films, but it's such a good book that it deserves its own thread.  Mark Harris really does a masterful job of weaving together cinema history, war history, and biography in a way that was a page-turner for me.  Even as I struggle to focus with COVID stress, I blew through its 450 pages in less than a week.

It's also a case of reading a book at the right time.  When there are so many examples of institutional and individual cowardice these days, it's invigorating to read of five leading writer/directors who not only put their livelihoods but their very lives on the line.  With my interest in PTSD, it's sobering to see how Huston, Wyler, and Stevens struggled with what we would now call PTSD in the aftermath of putting themselves in harm's way (and in Stevens' case, seeing the horror of the concentration camps).  Even Ford, who loved to bloviate over war stories, was uncharacteristically mum after D-Day.

Wyler in particular comes through as a solid mensch through and through.  Until reading this and the BFI book on Best Years of Our Lives, I had no idea he was a Jewish immigrant from the Alsace-Lorraine region.

Fascinating, too, to learn of the contributions of Chuck Jones, Theodore Geisel, and Mel Blanc to the war effort.

I've watched two of the three Netflix episodes in the companion series, and their visuals are most welcome, even if it's not groundbreaking stylistically.

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa


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